Security, Peace, and Justice in Northern Uganda

Frustrated with notorious rebel leader Joseph Kony’s persistent failure to make good on his promise to sign a peace deal, the Ugandan government, along with those of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, two of the other countries that Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorized, are ready to replace pens with guns.

“The three countries have agreed to launch military operations against Joseph Kony and his men, because he has demonstrated that he is not interested in peace at all,” said Major Paddy Ankunda, Uganda’s military spokesman.

“As usual Kony has used the peace process to recruit, abduct and rearm himself to fight on,” he added.

On the other side, Kony’s associates are still expressing confidence in the peace process.

“We should not give up. We should give Joseph more time to tell the world what his problem is with the peace deal,” lead rebel negotiator James Obita said on a Ugandan radio station. “There is still a chance to talk peace and sign the peace agreement,” he said.

Kony’s problem with the peace deal is all too clear, however: he is worried that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not drop its indictment of him and that, if he emerges from isolation, he will be carted off to The Hague. At issue for the international community — and particularly the neighboring states affected — is how to incite Kony to leave the bush without sacrificing the imperative of bringing him to justice for his crimes. The Ugandan government floated the proposal to suspend ICC jurisdiction in favor of traditional forms of Ugandan justice, though the ICC not unreasonably worried whether this would meet the Court’s standards.

Kony, however, has shown little actual interest in participating in substantive peace negotiations. As the LRA continues to kidnap children and terrorize the entire region, the need for security may indeed trump the concerns of both peace and justice in the immediate term. Those questions are not going to go away, though, and a military solution has not eradicated the LRA threat in the past 21 years, and nor would it likely be sufficient here. While Uganda’s cooperation with Sudan and DR Congo is welcome, it should also engage the entire African Union, and the ICC should come to a decision about how to best square its case for justice with the goal of ending the violence in the region.